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Summer Issue

Vol 29|No 6|Summer 2019

Tampering with Reality

By Jamie McKenzie (about author)

People have been photoshopping reality for hundreds of years, long before the software appeared. Journalists, historians, portrait painters and politicians have twisted the truth to create the realities that served their purposes. While the term "fake news" has been popularized by the current American President who complains about media reports that conflict with his own views of reality, there is nothing new about gaps between reality and the versions that are reported, published and distributed.

Back in 19th Century America, sensational news coverage was called "Yellow Journalism" and is credited with luring the USA into the Spanish-American war. (source)

This article will focus on recent advances in software apps that make it easy for anyone to conduct the equivalent of cosmetic surgery on self portraits, changing one's nose, lips, chin, eyelids and eyebrows to create a new version of self to present to the world on social media.

A new and improved self?

There is nothing wrong, certainly, with cleaning up a few blemishes when producing a publicity photo. It's been going on for decades. Nothing wrong with presenting one's best self. What deserves thought is the trend toward more drastic changes that verge on misrepresentation.

Who are you really?

Is "fake face" something like "fake news?"

As long as it's just Instagram, what harm is done?

A recent scandal in the USA involving college admissions helps to bring this issue into focus. When anyone pretends to be a varsity athlete in order to win admission to a prestigious university or their parents pay someone to change their answers on an entrance test, misrepresentation becomes fraud and criminal laws come into play.

It is related to plagiarism, submitting written work as one's own that was actually copied (stolen) from someone else. This can result in a professor being fired or a student being ejected.

Imagine, if you will, a first date with someone who has been changing their nose, lips, chin, eyelids and eyebrows for over a year. There is no makeup or cosmetic cure to this problem. When you meet the man with perfect abs or the woman with the perfect face, the gap between their online self and their real self is likely to produce a gasp.

Implications for schools

As pointed out in previous articles, schools should engage students in serious thought about pretense, pretending and illusion, using texts like The Great Gatsby to help them see the consequences of dissembling.

In "The Selfie goes to school" I proposed questions for students to consider as they viewed Gatsby's fantasies, illusions and misrepresentations.

Perhaps an English class has been studying The Great Gatsby, and the teacher asks how masks and masking may relate to the themes and the characters of that novel.

"What masks did Gatsby adopt?"

"Which parts of his past did he wish to mask?"

"How did his unmasking undo him?"

"How did Daisy's husband unmask him and then frame Gatsby with a false mask?"

"When you compare the acting of Carey Mulligan with that of Mia Farrow as Daisy, which actor did a better job of wearing the kinds of masks Fitzgerald probably intended? Same for Leonardo DiCaprio in contrast with Robert Redford?

"In what ways do masks and masking play a pivotal role in the development of the novel's main themes?"

The study of selfies suggested here ties in beautifully with the exploration inspired by issues of identity raised in the novel.

Good teachers and good schools will place verity at the heart of the curriculum - giving students the thinking tools to distinguish between fake news and real news, fake faces and real faces, as well as fake resumes and real resumes.

As the Australian cartoonist and poet, Michael Leunig, wrote in his 1991 poem "Verity" - "We must devote ourselves to truth." Read the entire poem here.

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